Coleman bangs his fist on his desk and glares at the subordinate who brought him the message.
Goffer: It's true, Mr. Coleman. A Sime. Dressed all fancy, with a guy wearing the same clothes. He wants to talk with you.
Coleman: [mutters] Fine, fine. I'll talk to anybody. After all, it's well known that MY TIME IS WORTH NOTHING!
Goffer: I'll send them in, sir.
Goffer scuttles for the door.
Coleman suspects this is some kind of repercussions from that damned Debree business, but is determined to maintain a proper front.
Seruffin enters the office a few minutes later.
Seruffin: Mr. Coleman? I'm Hajene Seruffin, and this is Sosu Gerrhonot.
Seruffin zlins as well as he can through the retainers that are clamped around his poor arms.
Gerrhonot is ~~ concerned ~~ that Seruffin is in for some real suffering, judging by Coleman's expression. He moves closer to his channel, but is reluctant to touch him, which might irritate the Gen further.
Coleman: [gruffly] Good day, sir. And what do you want?
Seruffin: I was hoping for your cooperation with an investigation. The Tecton has reason to believe that some criminals may have taken refuge in this area.
Coleman winces and rubs his bald head.
Coleman: Taken refuge? Don't you mean, fled from here?
Seruffin: No. These criminals would be taking advantage of the differences in law between your Territory and ours to escape the consequences of their actions.
Coleman: That's exactly what Debree did! But I tell you, he fled from here.
Seruffin: He is not one of the criminals we seek. These criminals pose an immediate threat to your people as well as ours.
Coleman grits his teeth and manages to get off his hobby-horse.
Coleman: All right, all right. But if they're such a danger, why aren't you talking to the government? Criminals aren't exactly my specialty.
Seruffin: Your government has been consulted, and shares our concerns. They have given me this letter requesting your cooperation with our investigation.
Coleman: Fine, fine. Show me the letter.
Seruffin takes an envelope from his shirt pocket and presents it.
Coleman takes the letter, ignoring the retainers while maintaining his stiff upper lip and ~~ iron emotional control ~~ and rips it open.
Coleman: Hmm, hmm hmm hmmmm. Fine, fine. So what do you want?
Seruffin: Accommodations, to begin with. I understand you own all the buildings in this town, and that there's isn't an inn?
Coleman: Right, right. No reason for anybody to come here unless they want work, hey? No inns for outside troublemakers, hey? But I can put you up in one of the workers' houses, if you're not too picky. Are you?
Seruffin: You have an empty house?
Coleman: Got to have some turnover, hey? Can't always have a worker in place to replace one that's been fired. Don't suppose you'll need to be here for more'n a few days, hey?
Gerrhonot thinks this sounds promising. In the summer weather, all they really need is enough of a house to keep off the rain and provide some privacy.
Seruffin: I don't know. That depends on whether our investigation looks fruitful. These things move at their own pace, as I'm sure you know.
Coleman: Around here, sir, what happens, happens at my pace! And if I need the house for a new hire, then he moves in, and it's up to you and him whether you move out. Catching your criminals is all very well, but production -- production, sir! -- must be maintained.
Seruffin: I see no reason why the production of your mine should be compromised by our investigation.
Coleman: As I say, it depends on whether the miner I hire is willing to have a Sime under his roof. That's between you and him, I say.
Seruffin: I also must speak with your staff, especially your security people.
Coleman: And fine, talk to anyone you like. Just don't go spreading subversion, or you'll be out on your ear.
Seruffin: I have no interest in overturning your government, just in preventing my own from being overturned. With unfortunate consequences for your own government, of course.
Coleman: I don't mean the government. I don't give a red rubber rat's ass about any government, Gen or Sime. I mean, don't go talking unions, or strikes, or any of that there.
Seruffin: I assure you, I have no mandate to interfere in your labor relations.
Coleman: Fine, fine. Anything else you need? Goffer!
Goffer pops inside.
Goffer: Yes, boss?
Coleman: Make sure these gentlemen have whatever they want.
Coleman scowls as he says this.
Goffer looks a little ~~ alarmed ~~:
Goffer: Yes, boss. What do they want?
Coleman: How the hell should I know? Find out! And put them up in one of the empty houses. Ask Rodgers which one.
Goffer: Okay, boss.
Goffer gestures for Seruffin and Gerrhonot to follow him.
Coleman: Good day, sir. And you too. And Goffer, don't take all day about it.
Seruffin gives a courtly bow.
Seruffin: Thank you for your cooperation.
Coleman returns to his paperwork without another word or gesture.
Seruffin follows the gofer outside, sticking close to Gerrhonot.
Gerrhonot stays between his channel and Mr. Goffer, glad that the town is almost deserted -- everybody must be at work.
Goffer throws a ~~ nervous ~~ glance at Seruffin, but addresses Gerrhonot.
Goffer: Er, what are you and your friend going to need, sir?
Goffer realizes what he's said.
Goffer: Um, besides the obvious.
Gerrhonot: Um. Just a place to stay, I guess.
Goffer: We have an empty house since Morris died and his family couldn't afford the rent. It's got beds, I think. I don't know about anything else.
Gerrhonot: I guess we can buy some pots and blankets and stuff at the store?
Goffer: Sure, sure.
Gerrhonot: Okay. Can we go there now?
Goffer: Yeah. This way.
Goffer scurries off.
Gerrhonot checks his channel for signs of stress and touches his arm ~~ comfortingly ~~.
Gerrhonot: I'll put up the sign right away and you can take your retainers off.
Seruffin resists the urge to wrap his arms around Gerrhonot's comforting nager, and retains the dignity of a Tecton diplomat.
Gerrhonot increases his projection of ~~ comfort and protection ~~ and stays close to his channel as they follow Goffer to a rather spartan and rundown two room cabin.
Goffer: The store's down at the end of the street -- there's a sign. Let me know if you want anything else. I'll be in the office.
Goffer turns and flees.
Seruffin zlins after him.
Seruffin: He's afraid of me.
Gerrhonot: A lot of them will be.
Gerrhonot ushers his channel into the cabin and closes the door.
Seruffin: And some won't. We have to remember that.
Gerrhonot takes Seruffin's hands and gives them a gentle squeeze.
Gerrhonot: I'll put up the sign.
Seruffin: Thank you.
Gerrhonot: Here, sit down.
Seruffin is ~~ exhausted ~~ enough to obey without protest.
Gerrhonot takes the sign from his shoulder bag and thumbtacks it to the outside door, closing out the hostile Gen world.
Gerrhonot: We're safe now. ~~ kindness compassion ~~
Gerrhonot gently removes the channel's retainers and kneels in front of him for a full contact, sliding his hands up the channel's arms.
Seruffin: For the moment. Shen, I hate traveling.
Gerrhonot fondles the Sime's tentacle sheaths, projecting ~~ devotion ~~ and ~~ protection ~~ with his depleted but rising nager.
Seruffin pulls himself together, somewhat slower than strictly necessary.
Gerrhonot: You just rest. I'll look around and figure out what to get at the store.
Seruffin: Thank you. It's good to have you to depend on.
Gerrhonot: I'll look after you. You just lean on me as much as you want.
Lora gently taps at the door with the Sime sign on it, not hard enough to cause pain.
Gerrhonot turns, but waits for Seruffin to tell him whether to answer the door or not.
Gerrhonot: What do you zlin, Hajene?
Seruffin: A young Gen. Female. Not hostile. Go ahead and answer it.
Gerrhonot opens the door, standing to block access and view.
Lora: Hey mister, is it true? The sign? You got a Sime here?
Gerrhonot: Um, yes. A channel.
Lora ignores everything except "yes".
Lora: C'n I talk to him? I need help.
Gerrhonot: Um. He's really tired. Do you need help right now? Is somebody turning Sime or something?
Lora: Na, na, nothin' like that. I c'n come back, maybe.
Lora goes from ~~ excitement ~~ to ~~ depressed resignation ~~.
Seruffin: Let her in, Gerrhonot.
Gerrhonot: Um. You can come in.
Gerrhonot goes to his channel and puts a hand on his shoulder. ~~ strong reliable protective ~~
Gerrhonot: This is Hajene Seruffin. I'm Sosu Gerrhonot.
Seruffin retracts his tentacles.
Seruffin: Pleased to meet you, Lora.
Lora ~~ hesitates ~~, then ~~ steels herself ~~ and takes a handgun, much too big for her, out of a capacious inside pocket of her tunic.
Lora: Mister, I got nothin' against you. But my family, we need that bounty. I gotta do it.
Gerrhonot is ~~ horrified ~~ and leaps in front of Seruffin.
Seruffin looks at the firearm, hoping that marriage is not at issue this time.
Gerrhonot: You don't get a bounty from nonjuncts! Besides, it's Sime Territory here. That's what the sign means.
Lora pays no attention, but lifts the weapon two-handed so as to minimize shaking.
Lora: I gotta. ~~ inflexible determination ~~
Gerrhonot: If you shoot me, it's murder too.
Seruffin: Lora, you don't want to do this.
Lora: Course not! But we gotta have that money!
Gerrhonot: You won't get any money for shooting him!
Seruffin: If your family requires money, there is another way to get it. And it won't get you arrested, either.
Lora is deaf to all this. She yanks the trigger instead of squeezing it, and the gun discharges and the bullet flies into the ceiling.
Seruffin has augmented and snatched the gun before she can reaim.
Lora stares at her empty hand and bursts out crying.
Gerrhonot wishes he had insisted that Seruffin make Jaklin send some ambrov Dar with them. He knows he's not much of a bodyguard, except nagerically.
Seruffin hands the gun to Gerrhonot for disposal and moves closer to Lora.
Gerrhonot unloads the weapon and puts the bullets in his pocket.
Seruffin: There, there. It's all right. We can find a solution for your family. Why don't you sit down here and tell us all about it.
Lora: [sobbing] My ... my da .... he ...
Seruffin leads Lora to the ratty old couch.
Seruffin: What's the matter with your father?
Lora: He ... his foot got ran over by a mine cart. He can still work, but ... but he keeps getting behind quota. And my brothers can't make up for it. And -- and the bosses, they won't let me go down. So at the end of the month we're out.
Seruffin: I see. Well, I agree that we can't let that happen. Right, Gerrhonot?
Lora: And now you took the gun, and if Jake goes to the bad, we won't be able to -- What? What can you do about it, mister?
Seruffin: Well, there are several possibilities.
Lora stops crying altogether and looks at the Sime with deep ~~ skepticism ~~.
Seruffin: To start with, I'm a channel. Do you know what a channel is?
Lora shakes her head.
Seruffin: A channel is a Sime Territory doctor. If your father is willing to come here, I can help him heal faster. Then he'll be able to meet his quota again.
Lora: Mister doctor, not even you can do anything about a missing foot. They had to take it off.
Lora: I didn't see, but Bob said it was all crushed and mangled and broke up.
Seruffin: The foot can't be replaced, but if it's not hurting, a special shoe should let him work. And there's something else.
Lora looks carefully neutral, but her nager is ~~ hopeful ~~.
Seruffin: Channels aren't only healers. We also keep other Simes from having to kill Gens.
Lora: Yeah? No Simes here, mister. We take care of 'em.
Seruffin: I know you do, but there are Simes in other places. They need selyn, and channels like me provide it to them so they don't have to kill Gens.
Lora: Okay. And where do you get it, mine it?
Lora smiles just a little.
Seruffin: We collect it from Gens. The Gens aren't harmed, and it pays very well.
Lora: Cash money?
Lora's face falls.
Lora: No good. Store doesn't take cash money, only company scrip.
Gerrhonot is ~~ puzzled ~~. Mr. Goffer said they could buy stuff at the store.
Lora: I've never even seen cash money -- I was born here.
Seruffin: I see. We were told that we could buy supplies, and we certainly don't have any scrip. I tell you what. If you or any of your family would like to donate, we'll buy the supplies for you with the money you earn.
Lora: Well, maybe. The rent's taken out on top, and that's what we're short on. But maybe that'll work. Have to get my ma to figure it out. How much you payin'?
Seruffin: It depends partly on you. I can take more selyn from a calm Gen than a frightened or angry one. But the range is....
Seruffin translates the currency, and gives an estimate.
Seruffin: At least to start out. A Gen who donates selyn regularly produces more than that.
Lora: Woh! That much scrip 'ud buy enough for us and three other families round here.
Lora's ~~ excitement ~~ returns.
Lora: With that, we'd cover the rent easy and never go hungry again. But --
Lora: You ain't gonna stay here? So it's a one-time thing. And then what?
Seruffin: I don't know how long I'll be staying, but I hope not more than a few weeks. It might not be a permanent solution, but it will help. And if your family can't stay here, it would give you a stake to start over somewhere else.
Lora: So. Just puts off the day. I shoulda shot ya when I had the chance. Bounty's paid in scrip, and we could dole it out, make it last.
Seruffin: Bounty doesn't apply, here. There would have been nothing to dole out.
Lora: Okay, mister, if you say so. ~~ depressed ~~
Seruffin: Look, Lora. Go home and talk it over with your family. If you want my help, I'm happy to provide it.
Lora: Okay. C'n I have back the gun? I won't shoot again, I promise. But we'll need it if Jack goes to the bad.
Seruffin: Jack is your younger brother?
Seruffin: Lora, if your brother starts turning Sime, bring him here. I can keep him from killing anybody, and send him to Sime Territory to live.
Lora's eyebrows rise in ~~ astonishment ~~.
Seruffin: Yes. Bring him here as soon as you think he might be in trouble. That goes for any other children here.
Lora: Okay, mister. I'll do it.
Seruffin: Good. Now, go talk to your parents.
Lora gives Seruffin a somewhat bigger smile.
Lora: Gotcha. And -- thanks.
Seruffin: You're welcome.
Lora turns on her heel and is out the door in a flash, for a Gen.
Lora is right back in.
Lora: I still need the gun. Da'll... well, I'll be in bad trouble.
Seruffin: All right. Gerrhonot, give her the gun back. Not the ammunition.
Lora: [outraged] Whaddya mean, not the ammo! What good's the gun without ammo! Da'll whup my ass, he will! And it'll be your fault.
Seruffin: I'll be happy to speak to your father, if you want.
Gerrhonot offers the gun.
Lora takes the gun, puts it away, and holds out her hand for the ammunition. ~~ inflexible determination ~~
Lora: What, you don't trust me? I'll spit shake on it! ~~ sincere, still determined ~~
Seruffin reluctantly ~~ concedes ~~.
Seruffin: Very well.
Seruffin gestures to Gerrhonot.
Lora goes through her part of the binding ritual and extends a drippy hand.
Seruffin hasn't spent much of his career as a diplomat without learning to adapt to strange native customs. He spits and extends his hand, tentacles retracted.
Lora shakes firmly.
Lora looks at Gerrhonot for the first time.
Gerrhonot fishes the remaining bullets out of his pocket and offers them.
Lora takes them and puts them in a different pocket rather than reloading.
Lora walks out a little more sedately this time.
Seruffin looks at Gerrhonot.
Seruffin: Not a bad start.
Gerrhonot looks back, allowing his ~~ worry ~~ to show.
Gerrhonot: I think we should send Jaklin a telegram, ask her to send us some Dar guards. It's a lot more dangerous here than in Gumgeeville.
Seruffin: I'll take it under advisement. For now, though, I'm hoping to avoid as much entran as possible. In the mean time, why don't you go to the store and pick us up some essentials?
Gerrhonot: Okay. I'll see what we have to have to make this place livable. And I'll get some more food too, and get our stuff from the train station.
Gerrhonot examines his channel carefully again. ~~ concern ~~
Seruffin: I'm all right, Gerrhonot.